Craig Handy's 2014 album, Craig Handy & 2nd Line Smith, finds the adept jazz saxophonist exploring a dance-amenable mix of material that combines the organ jazz sound of Jimmy Smith with the roiling New Orleans rhythmic traditions of second-line brass band music. Although Handy has played with such jazz luminaries as Wynton Marsalis and Elvin Jones, and was a member of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, he never had the opportunity to play with Smith. It was while investigating Smith's bluesy music that Handy realized how often the Hammond B-3 icon utilized a modified New Orleans second-line rhythm in his songs -- hence, the inspiration for Handy's own cross-genre pollinations here. Backing Handy on 2nd Line Smith are Hammond B-3 specialist Kyle Koehler, guitarist Matt Chertkoff, sousaphonist Clark Gayton, and drummers Herlin Riley, Jason Marsalis, and Ali Jackson, as well as special guests guitarist Clarence Spady, vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater, and trumpeter Marsalis. Guiding his band with his burnished, muscular sax tone, Handy dives headlong into a handful of songs either written by Smith ("High Heel Sneakers," "Mellow Mood") or simply strongly associated with him ("Organ Grinder's Swing," "I Almost Lost My Mind"), as well as songs by such like-minded soul-jazz artists as Stanley Turrentine ("Minor Chant") and Wes Montgomery ("O.G.D. aka Road Song"). Elsewhere, Handy reworks Muddy Waters' "Mojo Workin'," delivers a buoyant, New Orleans-centric version of "On the Sunny Side of the Street," and reimagines "I'll Close My Eyes" as a funky lounge-music jam. Without ever seeming gimmicky or pandering, on 2nd Line Smith Handy finds the perfect balance of foot-tapping New Orleans parade rhythms, exploratory jazz improvisations, and blues-inflected, organ-soaked grooves.
AllMusic Review by Matt Collar